WMA To Draw Up Health Database Guidelines

New international ethical guidelines for the development of centralised health databases are to be drawn up by the World Medical Association.

The association decided on the need for guidelines after holding a joint seminar in Geneva with the World Health Organisation, where physicians' representatives from across the world expressed their concern about the threat to privacy of patients' records.

Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the WMA, said: "It is essential that to allay public concern about the growing development of these databases, internationally acceptable guidelines are drawn up to govern their use. The public is rightly concerned about whether their right to privacy and confidentiality is threatened by these databases and whether information about them as individuals could be misused.

"Centralised health databases can make a tremendous contribution to the improvement of health. But the public's right to privacy and consent are essential to the trust and integrity of the patient/physician relationship and we must ensure that these rights are properly protected. Any guidelines must address the issues of privacy, consent, individual access and accountability."

A World Medical Association working group, under the chairmanship of Dr James Appleyard of the British Medical Association, will now consider the issues and bring forward proposed guidelines for consideration at the WMA's Annual General Assembly in Edinburgh in October.